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Islamabad-Gilgit-Islamabad - Trip Report by Kaiser Khan

This trip happened more than three years ago. It's only when I showed the trip photos to Abbas, he encouraged me to write a trip report. The info I wrote behind each photograph helped me to compile this report. 

It all started, when I got a call from my dear friend Capt. Tariq on Saturday morning January 24, 2004. Tariq told me that he is flying out to Islamabad (ISB) from Lahore (LHE) in the evening and will be operating the Sunday morning flight to Gilgit (GIL). Interestingly there are two daily departures from ISB to GIL everyday and both sorties are performed by the same set of crew. Tariq suggested that I fly out with him on the first flight, do some sightseeing and return back to ISB on the next flight. I agreed, hanged up the phone and made a beeline to the PIA booking office. The PIA booking agent gave me a weird look when I told him that I am returning just 3 hours after arriving in GIL. The ticket was LHE-ISB-GIL-ISB. At around 1500 I drove to Capt. Tariq’s house and the pickup was at 1530. The departure to ISB was at 1715. This was my first ever trip on a Fokker F27. We arrived in ISB at 1800. Capt. Tariq checked with the PIA flight operations and found out that flights to GIL had been cancelled for the past five days due to low visibility. We headed for his flat. Later on had dinner at Pindi Club and thereafter I bought an Rs. 700 camera from a local photo shop.

Date: January 25, 2004
Day: Sunday
Aircraft: Fokker F27 Friendship
Registration: AP-AUR
Flight Number: PK-605
Flight Route: Islamabad-Gilgit
Scheduled Departure Time: 0715
Actual Departure Time: 0915

Pickup was at 0515. We reached Islamabad Airport at 0530. Capt Tariq instructed me to check-in and to meet him on the aircraft. At 0630 we got the bad news, flight delayed because of low visibility for 2 hours. After waiting what seemed like eternity we finally started boarding at 0830. I boarded the aircraft and was escorted to the cockpit. Those of you who are un-familiar with the F27 cockpit. Apart from the Captain & First Officer seat there is just enough space to stand behind the throttle pedestal, with a curtain separating the cockpit from the galley/baggage hold section. We started our taxi run at 0915.

Capt Tariq ready to apply taxi power

First Officer Shafqat. British Airways Boeing 777 taxiing ahead

We ended up holding short of the runway, waiting for couple of aircraft landing and taking-off.

British Airways Boeing 777 taking off

PIA Boeing 737-300 clearing runway after landing

PIA Boeing 747-240B Combi touching down

As soon as the PIA Boeing 747 crossed us we headed towards the end of Runway 30 and waited till the 747 cleared the runway.

PIA Boeing 747-240B Combi clearing the runway

Take-off was surprisingly brisk, as I grabbed the Captain, First Officer seats with both hands. Once airborne we made a right bank and headed north-west over flying Islamabad’s landmarks.

The captain/ tour guide. Note the interior of AP-AUR

We climbed up to FL 155 with snow covered mountains just 500 feet below us just so I could take this shot.

Snow covered mountains just 500 feet below us

We soon climbed to FL180, and I was served the cockpit crew breakfast of omelet, chicken sausage, toast and orange juice in the galley.  We headed towards Nanga Parbat. It is truly a breathtaking sight approaching the mountain, with clouds surrounding its summit, making it all the more mysterious.

Nanga Parbat, also known as Diamir “Killer Mountain”. Highest Himalayan peak in Pakistan. Second highest peak in Pakistan. Height 26,658 feet.

Next to Nanga Parbat are couple of subsidiary summits which are called “Sleeping Beauty” by the pilots. Contours of which describe a woman lying on her back.

Nanga Parbat on the right, “Sleeping Beauty” in the center

Once we cross the killer mountain we head north-west flying over the river Indus. Interesting fact about river Indus is that when it reaches Gilgit, it has already traveled some 700km.

The River Indus at its northern most part of its lengthy journey

Soon after we enter Gilgit valley and start to make our descent towards Gilgit Airport. The approach to the runway is quite hair raising. With the F27 dead heading a mountain and than making a left towards the runway some 500 feet before touchdown. The runway itself starts right after a sheer cliff which is right above the Gilgit River.

Fantastic approach to Gilgit

Fantastic approach to Gilgit

Fantastic approach to Gilgit

After landing, Capt. Tariq arranged transportation for me for sightseeing purposes and heads back to Islamabad promising to return in 2-3 hours. I did some shopping, bought some dried fruits, locally woven sweaters, caps etc. One thing which surprised me was, twice people asked whether I was from Pakistan. Later on, talking to some Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officers stationed at the airport over tea, I found out Gilgitians do not consider themselves as Pakistanis. As a nation we have a lot of work to do. 

Meanwhile my return flight had already landed. The CAA people gave me a tour of their small airport. I saw the control tower, the instrument room etc, could not take any pictures for obvious security reasons.

A view from the Gilgit Airport balcony adjacent to the control tower

I tried taking a photo of Capt Tariq. The Airport Security Force (ASF) guy wasn’t too happy, while the PIA baggage loader looks bemused, maybe because there was big sign behind me which said “photography strictly prohibited”. The old man on the left just wants to go the loo

A beautiful view from the cockpit of the Gilgit terminal and control tower

A beautiful view from the cockpit of the Gilgit terminal and control tower

Date: January 25, 2004
Day: Sunday
Aircraft: Fokker F27 Friendship
Registration: AP-AUR
Flight Number: PK-608
Flight Route: Gilgit-Islamabad
Scheduled Departure Time: 1100
Actual Departure Time: 1330

It was time to head back to Islamabad. The return leg was handled by First Officer Shafqat with Capt. Tariq handling the throttle. With more or less reverse of my earlier journey.

PK-608 ready to taxi. Capt applying taxiing power

Heading towards the end of the runway

Heading towards the end of the runway

Thumbs up!  Ready for take-off

Ready for take-off

Soon after rotation

Capt has just pulled up the gear lever

F27 is banking right climbing towards the Gilgit Valley

Flying over Islamabad on landing approach

Flying over Islamabad on landing approach

Flying over Islamabad on landing approach

Short finals to Islamabad Airport Runway 30

Short finals to Islamabad Airport Runway 30

We landed around 1430. Went to Capt Tariq’s flat. Took a cab to the Daewoo Bus Terminal and was on the 1630 bus bound for Lahore. Reached Lahore at around 2100 hrs.

Since I made this trip Capt. Tariq has moved on the 737 and I am looking forward to get a chance to fly with him to Skardu. As for AP-AUR it over ran the runway at Chitral and was written off.

AP-AUR was damaged beyond repair in an accident at Chitral Airport on June 16, 2004. Click here for accident details and Click here to see photos of damaged AP-AUR

As for the trip, all I can say if given a chance; I would do this all over again. I hope the photos I took are acceptable, as I am not a keen photographer. I still don’t own a digital camera.




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